Until Dawn is essentially an interactive horror movie where you can have your actors play as smart rational human beings or get them all killed in horrible ways. Though the gameplay invites comparison to Telltale’s well written virtual choose your own adventure novels (QTE’s, character driven narratives and half-hearted puzzles) it makes up for it with gorgeous graphics, excellently emotive character animations and sheer atmosphere as cold and horrifying as the snowy mountain it’s set on. You play as a group of potential corpses to be who are visiting a family mountain lodge on the anniversary of the disappearance of their friends who went missing after a prank gone wrong. While there, they are terrorized by a mysterious masked killer and his Jigsaw style traps, but eventually find out that something more horrifying is happening on the mountain then they could have ever imagined.
The setup and characters are your standard horror movie clichés. An abandoned asylum, snowy woods, the blond bimbo, jerk jock, nerd, final girl, stuck up harpy who can thankfully be killed in more ways than the other characters etc (Seriously though, you will hate Emily). But, the game does a solid job of expanding these characters out of their roles and adding some complexity to them with great voice acting and mostly solid writing. There are some dark twists and turns in this tale, and the fact that anybody can die lead to genuine tension and a story that’s drastically different depending on your butterfly affect decisions. Along the way you can find mysterious totems that give hints at future horrors, as well as little notes and clues that provide insights into the story and characters and further adding to the atmosphere. Another noteworthy aspect is the “homage” to the psychiatrist segments from Silent Hill Shattered Memories where gameplay is interrupted by a smooth-talking somewhat judgmental psychologist who will ask you questions which can influence aspects of the story.
These start out normal enough, but as the game progresses this office becomes more bizarre and terrifying and leads to one of the better twists and moments of the game. In fact, though the premise and setting is unoriginal, these little flourishes and sheer solid polish makes them seem almost fresh in how well-crafted they are. Even after beating the game, you can skip around a bit in chapters to see how different decisions can affect the story or pick up any collectibles you missed. Though it would have been nice if you could fast forward the long talking bits, it’s a credit to the game that even after playing it several times, every time an unexplored segment started I felt the same rush of fear all over ago. With system pushing graphics, great atmosphere, surprisingly complex characters, and terrifying crowd-pleasing horror movie moments this is a must play for anybody looking for some solid scares especially around Halloween.
4 scary mountains out of 5
Out of all the possible properties for Telltale to absorb in their well written gullet, Game of Thrones is probably the best fit conceivable. It mostly involves people talking, peppered with bits of extreme violence, and an overarching tone of no matter what you do everyone you love will die, everyone you hate won’t, and the best you can try for is to fail in the least horrible way. Just the simple act of talking to the queen filled me with a cold sweated dread. The soul crushing atmosphere gave every decision weight making me agonize over the most mundane decisions in a way these types of games haven’t done since the original Walking Dead. Which is good because it distracted me from the uninventive gameplay and the fact I really don’t care for the source material.
The graphics are that same Telltale style but many seemingly simple things like a window or a pot were unjustifiable blurry and pixelly which is the first time I have ever seen that in a one of these games. The gameplay is standard Telltale. Quick time events, adventure game style barely puzzles, and choices that sort of kinda change things but not really. There is a slight twist in that you play as five different characters whose decisions affect each other’s stories. But Tales of the Borderlands already did the multiple character with the added caveat of the in-media res flashback storytelling angle allowing you to completely alter the tone and character direction.
Game of Thrones lacks this, forcing it to rely solely on the TV show for source material. I have respect for the TV show, as it has good actors (who play themseleves in the game), good writing and interesting characters. It also has tons of bland one-dimensional characters despite everybody telling me it was such a complex story that there were no real “bad guys” (they always neglect to mention the pure evil characters with no redeemable qualities that seem to litter what I saw). I found it very tedious and unengaging what with the massive number of characters, storylines, and inconsistent length of episodes. After trudging through the first season I told somebody I wasn’t really interested in continuing and they said to keep watching because it’s going to “get good”. Well by my reasoning, something that takes over 10 hours to “get good” isn’t.
But, the game tells a much more personal story as you play as members of the Forrester Family. This is a smaller house in the worlds lore who specialize and harvesting the valuable iron wood trees. They have found themselves on the losing side of a war and now must do whatever they can to survive being under the rule of the new psychotically unstable power. Some of the more noteworthy characters are Ethan Forrester a poor 14-year-old kid who has become the lord of the house after his father’s death and must live with the fact his every decision could lead to his whole world coming down in flames. As well as Mira Forrester, the handmaiden in the decadent court of death who must navigate the politics in a city where everybody has their own agenda and will betray you at the drop of a hat.
Again, this led to some intense moments and helped solidify the atmosphere and tone making it difficult to want to continue playing. Since that is exactly the tone of the show and books I can respect it for that. However, the Borderlands game took a property I was indifferent to and made me completely invested and want to revisit the main game. This one however, simply reminded me what I respect about the series without changing my mind about it or give me a particularly strong desire to continue playing past the first episode. But if you love Game of Thrones you’ll more than likely love this game. If not, it’s still well-crafted but probably won’t change your mind.
3.75 horrible consequences out of 5
This is an especially odd little action game from the wacky wonderland of Japan. Imagine that History Channel show life after people where all humans on Earth vanished. Now imagine if it featured Pomeranians, beagles, cheetahs, alligators, dinosaurs etc. fighting with simple combat in repetitive environments as they try to survive as long as possible without being eaten, or just starving to death since these animals have the metabolism of the Flash times ten and can’t go 100 feet without starving half to death. There is some absurd fun to be had in fighting a cheetah with a giraffe or any other insane combination. And the story mode tells oddly endearing little tales of survival. However, you must trudge through most of the game as the smaller less interesting animals. What makes it even more tedious is when you play as a herbivore your only source of food is random plants scattered what seems like miles away from each other with no easy indication if the area you’re in is a cornucopia of vegetable wonder or a barren urban desert.
At least the carnivores can eat any animal for sustenance which makes half of the playable characters horrendously difficult to enjoy as you have no easy way of not dying. So your only real gameplay experience is traveling as much of the city as you can occasionally finding a useful item or learning more about what caused the apocalypse and slowly unlocking the infinitely more engaging story segments that feature actual structure and satisfaction. Overall a fun little oddity but you must wave through a tidal wave of tedium to get to the good stuff.
3.75 dogs in dresses out of 5.
Darkstalkers Resurrection is a fancy rerelease of the classic arcade fighting game featuring that mummy guy and playboy vampire lady from the Marvel vs Capcom Games (Anakaris and Morrigan). It retains the sprite look of the arcade game, and it also features the same control listing from the arcade making it unnecessarily difficult to decipher the equivalent for your controller (this is the 2nd of these types of games to do this and it still makes no sense.) Fortunately, the controls are nowhere near as complex as the random string of insanity one needs to learn for your Mortal Kombats and Street Fighters.
The characters themselves are well designed, taking influences from many classic (and copyright free) monsters. There are vampires, mummies, cursed samurai armor, ancient dinosaur killing robots, Rockstar zombies, etc. Each has drastically different movesets, abilities, and the expressive 2D animations give off their personalities perfectly. You play the typical fighting game “story” of randomly generated fights for a character unveiling their “ending” as well as tournaments and two player fights. Despite the older aesthetic modern features such as online play and spectator mode. This is not my genre of game but the unique characters and simpler controls make it somewhat more engaging to me. However, the whole untranslated controls is unjustifiable and made the game unreasonably tedious requiring a serious docking of points.
3.5 Royalty free monsters out of 5.
Element4l is a puzzle platformer where you play as an adorable elemental being that uses its ability to change form to traverse the environment solving a series of simple puzzles. You start as a basic cloud shape moved by the wind. But you soon gain the ability to take the shape of an ice-cube, fireball, and bolder each with their own properties for moving around the world. The base air element can float but is under the influence of the wind, the ice-cube is slippery and can build momentum downhill, the fireball can shoot across the sky a few feet and bounce off the oddly plentiful lava, while the boulder can break weak barriers and create momentum.
Though the puzzles start simple they very quickly require rapid transformations as you’ll have to create momentum with the ice-cube then turn to air on a draft as you turn into a fireball to get across a gap and bolder your way through a wall. And that’s one of the simple ones. To help with these puzzles you can press a help button which shows you what combination of elements will help you through the puzzle. This might seem like cheating, but you still need to get the timing down for transformations which is much more difficult than it sounds. You will die a lot and a decent percent of those will not be your fault. There were several times when I solved the puzzle with no idea as to what I did differently from my last fifteen failures.
But, the issues with the gameplay is mitigated by a simple but beautiful soundtrack which in conjunction with the distinctive art design make for beautiful atmospheric little game. There is no real story though the elemental does spout random somewhat thought-provoking lines every now and again. It lacks the rock-solid precision and perfect design that other puzzle platformers in the past (The Swapper is still my crown jewel in that regard) and the atmosphere doesn’t completely change my real frustrations. But, it’s still worth at least a try for those moments where you pull off the right sequence and feel like a genius.
3.5 adorable fireballs out of 5.
This one is an odd little casual game where you control the titular Mr. Robot as he tries to avoid waves of cartoony robots using the power of fruit to destroy them. If timed properly you can create a wave of exploding fruit and enemies to get extra coins for upgrades such as attracting the distance of your coin magnet. There is no real story, just a series of challenges such as seeing how long you can survive. The music is alright and the 2D cartoony design of the enemies and Mr. Robot himself are endearing. Nothing much to say really, though I found myself oddly entranced for an hour or so but there was nothing special enough to make me want to return either.
3 fruit bombs out of 5